HL Deb 29 July 2002 vol 638 cc669-72

2.44 p.m.

Viscount Craigavon asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in view of the present attitude of the United States administration, they will reaffirm their commitment to reproductive health as an important component of their international development policy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, the reproductive health of the poor is a key priority for the Government. We remain firmly committed to the International Conference on Population and Development target of achieving access to reproductive health for all by 2015. We are convinced that reproductive health and rights are vital to making progress to attain the millennium development goals to combat HIV/AIDS and to lower maternal and child mortality. We would like in particular to acknowledge the important contribution that the United Nations Population Fund makes in these important areas.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does she agree that an example of the new American attitude occurred last week, when the President refused to sign the release of 34 million dollars, which had been agreed in full by Congress, to the highly respected United Nations Population Fund? Given the problems and difficult issues that she mentioned in her Answer, what signal does that send to the rest of the world? Can she give us some of idea of the lead that she could take—with our allies, if necessary—to combat this new American pressure, both financially and in terms of winning the argument?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, of course we are disappointed by the American response. We are major supporters of the work of the UNFPA. Our current core funding is £15 million per annum. In addition, we are pressing it to move ahead with reform proposals. We are considering an increased contribution. We will continue to be staunch allies of the fund and its objectives, because it is very important to tackle HIV/AIDS and maternal and child mortality.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of the work of International Women's Healthcare, based in New York, in promoting women's health around the world? I pay tribute to it and declare an interest in knowing some people who work with it. Given the noble Baroness's commitment to promoting sexual and reproductive health services in developing countries, can she assure us that the Government will continue to place NGOs such as Population Concern, which are experts in the field, at the forefront of service delivery in promoting sexual health?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Baroness is aware that partnership is a key element of the Department for International Development's overall strategy. Working in partnership with NGOs, including on reproductive health, remains a priority for us.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the Government seek to persuade our partners in the European Union that we should make good the 34 million dollar shortfall arising from President Bush's capitulation to the Christian fundamentalists in the United States? Will the Government confirm that the criticism that has been made in the US that China uses coercive population policies has been found to have no basis by delegations from Britain and the United States that have been to China recently? In view of that, what will be the impact of the loss of that 34 million dollars on the other programmes of the population fund, including those concerned with reducing maternal morbidity and mortality?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Three MPs recently visited China to observe the UNFPA's programme. They found no evidence that the UNFPA is supporting coercive activity. I think that the group from the United States found no evidence that the UNFPA was engaged in those activities, but expressed concerns about the activities of the Chinese Government. The European Commission announced on 24th July an additional contribution of 20 million euros to the UNFPA.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, are the Government continuing to support the development of microbicides, on which I saw a presentation at the Department for International Development? They are creams that could be applied vaginally. They could be contraceptive or not, according to the situation, but they would prevent HIV/AIDS. That is one of the greatest possible answers to the HIV problem. Is her department continuing to support that research, which seemed so hopeful?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the answer is yes. We have committed £16 million to the Medical Research Council's microbicide development programme.

Lord Patel

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Mexico declaration made by President Bush will adversely affect reproductive health programmes in the world's poorest countries, leading to further deprivation and increased poverty in those countries?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, it is important to recognise that reproductive health and education about reproductive health are absolutely critical in the fight against poverty. More than half of the new HIV/AIDS infections occur in young people under the age of 24. We must tackle this issue not only bilaterally but with our international partners.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, will the Minister join me in congratulating the BBC World Service on its very imaginative partnership with television companies in India to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS in that country? Will she and her right honourable friend in another place, Mrs Short—who I know is very supportive of this project—support similar imaginative projects in other countries, particularly in Africa?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we are constantly looking at ways in which we can get our key messages across, and the BBC World Service programme is but one element of that. I thank the noble Baroness for her comments about my right honourable friend.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, will the Minister kindly clarify exactly what is meant by the term "reproductive health"? In particular, does it include abortion, and if so, up to what stage of pregnancy, and on what grounds?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the International Conference on Population and Development agreed that in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning, and we agree with that. However, the conference also agreed that, where abortion is not against the law, it should be safe, and that in all cases women should have access to services for managing complications arising from unsafe abortions. We are working on various issues including reproductive health.